Naples in the Napoleonic period between the Bourbons, the Republic and Murat
Late eighteenth century Naples was a remarkable place, the second largest European city by population, with significant architectural and artistic achievements and an important centre of Enlightenment,with economists such as Ferdinando Galiani and Antonio Genovesi and political or legal philosophers including Francesco Mario Pagano and Gaetano Filangieri. It was already a city of great contrasts, combining architectural treasures and phenomenal natural beauty with a large population living in poverty. Goethe celebrated the latter during his Italian journey in the shape of the Lazzaroni, who were capable of combining a total lack of means with a certain art of living with joy.
In 1734 the Bourbons had conquered the twin Kingdoms of Naples and of Sicily, governed as a personal union first by the able King Charles and then by his peculiar son Ferdinand (from 1759 until his death in 1825). Ferdinand was the fourth king of his name for Naples, the third for Sicily and the first for the Two Sicilies, the name adopted by the two kingdoms when they were formally unified in 1816. Ferdinand was uninterested in the affairs of government, knowledge or refinement: he was a full time hunter, nicknamed King lazzarone, for his affinity with the illiterate masses of Naples, or nasone, because of his imposing nose, out of common even by the standards of the Bourbons.
A Sicilian silver coin worth one ounce (onza da 30 tarì) minted in Palermo in 1793, here illustrated, represents him in his full uncensored glory, with an honesty rarely seen in official portraits. In truth the Bourbons seem to have been rather relaxed about their ungainly appearance, as testified by the collection of official portraits painted by Goya and still in the collections of the Prado. The coin also represents a phoenix reborn, rising from its ashes under the rays of the sun. The motto ex auro argentea resurgit unexpectedly refers to the very peculiar nature of this coin. The gigantic silver piece (68 grams) was the rebirth of an older traditional Sicilian one ounce coin, which had been minted for centuries in gold (4.4 grams). It is therefore the rebirth and transmutation of gold into silver at a 1 to 15,5 ratio which was being celebrated! This coin was minted only in three different years and with different dies. Given its rarity today and the excellent condition of surviving pieces it must have been mainly a presentation piece, far too cumbersome for ordinary transactions.
Ferdinand’s reign initially was not particularly regressive or repressive, thanks to the ministers left to him by his father who had been called to the Spanish throne and maintained an oversight of Naples. The French revolution changed this, especially under the influence of the Queen, Maria Carolina of Habsburg-Lorraine, the real ruler of the country, and the sister of Marie Antoinette who was executed in Paris in 1793.
In 1798 the French republican army occupied Rome and the Pope was taken prisoner to France. Ferdinand and Carolina decided to invade the territory of the newly proclaimed Roman Republic. They entrusted the command of a Neapolitan army of 60,000 soldiers to an inept Austrian General, sent from Vienna by the Emperor. General Karl Mack von Leiberich divided his Neapolitan troops in six different invasion columns. The small French army of 8,000 first withdrew from Rome to regroup and then easily cut to pieces one enemy column after the other. Defeat turned into a rout, Ferdinand fled and hardly stopped in Naples, boarding the British fleet asking for Nelson’s protection and safe passage to Sicily. The considerable Neapolitan fleet was unusable due to massive desertion of the crews. The French entered Naples, overcoming the tenacious and desperate armed defense of the monarchy by the Lazzaroni. The Neapolitan Republic was proclaimed and lasted five months. It collapsed after the departure of the French army, caused by the offensive of the second anti-French coalition, with Austrian, Russian and Ottoman armies invading Italy. The Neapolitan Jacobins negotiated surrender in exchange for safe passage to exile with Cardinal Ruffo, head of the insurgent “army of the holy faith” (sanfedisti) which had conquered southern Italy mobilizing the peasants in the name of the King. Nelson, however, refused to accept the terms of surrender and Ferdinand ordered the arrest and the execution of the Jacobins who “had dared to rebel against God and Me”, even when they were already on board the ships for France. Several hundred republicans were hanged, some aboard Nelson’s ship, including the Neapolitan Admiral, Prince Caracciolo, together with some of the main Neapolitan intellectuals of the time, including Pagano and Eleonora de Fonseca Pimentel, who had directed the official publications of the Republican government.
We have here illustrated a 12 carlini large silver coin of the Neapolitan Republic, minted in Naples in 1799 by the National Mint (Zecca Nazionale, ZN, the initials which appeared on some coins). The image follows closely the symbol of the French republic, a female allegory of liberty holding in one hand a pike surmounted by the red cap of freedom and carrying in the other a fasci. The slightly more original components of the iconography are hidden at her feet, in the form of an overturned crown and a yoke of tyranny trampled under the feet of freedom. The engraver later excused himself with the returning Bourbons claiming that he had worked under duress and had refused to insert his initials in the coin because he was opposed to the Jacobins.
The Restoration of the Bourbons in Naples was short lived as Napoleon ordered a new invasion in 1806 and placed his brother Joseph Bonaparte on the throne. Napoleon then promoted Joseph to the Spanish throne in 1808, replacing him in Naples with Marshal Joachim Murat, husband of Caroline Bonaparte. Son of a provincial family of small innkeepers, Murat had risen through the revolutionary ranks thanks to his impetuous cavalry charges. His flashy style and looks, together with his reforms and promotion of economic development helped him reach popularity in Naples.
Like the Republicans of 1799, initially Murat kept to the old Neapolitan monetary system and minted silver pieces in carlini and copper pieces expressed in grana. We have illustrated here a piece of 3 grana, minted in Naples in 1810, in which Murat’s good looks are being exalted, following style and skills recalling the Hellenistic period. He is depicted with his elegant profile, his proud locks, his long and carefully tended side burns, exhibiting an unconventional earring. His title was already King of the Two Sicilies, despite the fact that Bourbons never lost control of Sicily, always protected by the British fleet. The real French basis of his legitimacy emerged however from the fact that coins indicated his identity as “Gioacchino Napoleone” and not “Murat” and extended his titles to “Prince and Grand Admiral of France”.
After a few years, following Napoleon’s written orders Murat started converting the Neapolitan currency into the Franco-Italian bimetallic system of francs-lire based on the Franc Germinal, part of Napoleon’s grand European plan. New issues peaked in 1813 and included the 40 lire gold piece minted in Naples and here illustrated. The military and political decline of the Napoleonic empire ultimately stopped new issues before they had a significant impact on the economy of Southern Italy, but they prepared the way for the Italian lira’s arrival in 1860 with Garibaldi’s red shirts.
Murat betrayed Napoleon in 1814, negotiating with the Austrians to keep his throne, but sided again with Napoleon the following year during the hundred days. He then attempted a failed invasion of northern Italy shortly before Waterloo. He was defeated and lost the Neapolitan throne. Later in 1815, Murat tried again to reconquer Naples, landed in Calabria, and was captured and executed by order of Ferdinand.
Despite the political banishment of the coinage of the Republicans of 1799 and of Murat, its real circulation lasted for a very long time, far outliving its issuers, as testified by the availability of highly worn coins that can be encountered today on the numismatic market in Italy and France.
Luca Einaudi, Centre for History and Economics
Centre for History and Economics,
Cambridge CB3 0AG, UK
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